In celebration of my 28th birthday we decided that a spontaneous weekend away to a brand new destination would be a fitting celebration. So we sat down with google flights and searched for the cheapest flight to anywhere in Europe. It just so happened to be Bologna, Italy. Italy! We had hoped that a trip South might be a welcome respite from the bitter Swedish cold, but alas, we were not so lucky. Storm Egon had brought flooding, snowfall and high winds to continental Europe, leaving in its wake, less than desirable temperatures. Not ones to let a little cold dampen our spirits, we persevered, spending almost no time at all in Bologna itself, opting instead to head straight to Florence – only 35 minutes away by high speed train (the train ticket cost more than our return airfare! But never-mind that now).

After checking into our charming little pensione, only a short walk from the central station, we headed out to explore Firenze after dark. Being the height of the off-season however, the city was nearly empty and I can’t say that it made much of an impression at night (I blame the long day of travel and the cold for my grumpiness), but we managed to find a cozy restaurant where we enjoyed a nice glass of wine and small mountain of Italian cured meats. Ash was in heaven. As far as Italian food is concerned I will say one thing – it’s probably not the best idea to visit Italy, the home of the carb, if you are trying to stick to any kind of remotely healthy diet. Needless to say, we didn’t have any pizza.

But all was set right again when we woke up to a crisp but clear Friday morning and my birthday proper. We spent the day site-seeing on foot – definitely the way to go – stopping every so often for a good (and cheap!) cup of Italian coffee. Before crossing the Arno via Ponte Santa Trinita to explore the Southern part of the city, we stopped for a river-side lunch where we soaked up some, admittedly weak, winter sunshine. These days I’ll take any sun I can get, okay! There, the Piazzale Michelangelo was definitely a stand out – a bit of a hike up to the top, but well worth it for views.

We couldn’t very well go to Florence and not try Florentine steak, which incidentally has a minimum serving size of 1kg in most establishments. For dinner (with surprising ease) we managed to put away just under a kilo and a half between us, cooked to perfection, at the no-frills but highly-rated La Fettuna. Would definitely recommend!

We had initially planned to spend another day in Florence, but having covered approximately 17km by foot the previous day, we felt that we had covered most of what the city had to offer. Besides eating yourself into a pasta- and gelato-induced coma, or whiling away your time in one of the countless art galleries or museums, there’s not a whole lot else to do in the middle of winter. Instead we decided to head to Venice for the day (again via high-speed train, which is a real highlight for train lovers, such as myself). In hindsight, this was a mistake. My Italian colleges had warned me of its overrated-ness, and I should have listened, but its one of those places you just have to see for yourself. In Ash’s words: “It’s a bit like a weird theme-park, without any rides”. Unless of course you count the gondolas, but let’s be real, who can actually afford those!? The food was likewise overpriced, and that’s coming from someone who has become accustomed to Swedish prices.

All of my moaning aside, it was a fantastic experience! One which has only made me more excited by the prospect of returning for another visit, this time, in the summer. Look out Rome, you’re next!

La Dolce Italia